Sunday, October 20, 2019

Dark of Night

It has remained a pertinent exercise for young fine art students to study one colour at a time, and in depth. As a young foundation student, I initially studied the colour blue in monochrome exercises, alongside all the other students of my year. Thereafter, I studied green and white, followed by black and magenta, all of which were my choice. Art tutors in some colleges are inclined to place narrative interpretations upon the relationship of various colours, alongside the theory of practical colour mixing.

Today, with reference to my previous post, one question has arrived eight times in my inbox. Paraphrasing, this is the question: 

What colours are the easiest to paint onto a black ground?

The least problematic colours to paint upon a black ground are at the blue end of the spectrum. Such colours have a capacity for both shades and tints without loosing their hue in either light or shade. Red for example, looses its saturation in tints, becoming pink. Yellow, for example, can become grubby when we shade it and place it over a black ground. All these issues are overcome with experience, but when new to colour mixing, it can be a worthwhile process to be simplistic at the outset.

But what of coloured images on a black background as a general idea?

Some artists are delighted by the drama, others recoil from it, demeaning it as kitsch. 

Are coloured flowers upon a black background redolent of a 1950s chocolate box? 

You decide what is best for you, because its a taste issue. 

Personally, I enjoy looking at colour on a black ground in other artist's work, even though I am more of a tonal painter myself. The use of a black 'background' in a painting with coloured subject matter upon it, will always be something that will be there as an exercise to train the painting student.  

For everyone who has asked about the Night Time Series of Paintings that I began in 1984, these have been removed from my blog and are archived. However, there will be more night time paintings being shown on my website next year. These paintings are quite disturbing to view. The sense of this is reflected in my work. Working outside in the dark has to be managed very carefully. I do not and never will recommend that anyone go out painting at night.

There are some intuitive writings from 2015 on the home page of my Drawings Website that describe my experience of Time and Timelessness. Also there are some some new original screen prints which sold out very fast this month. 

If you you would like to access any particular past blog post of previous years, you are welcome write to me via either of my websites and request a download.

Here is a preview of one of last year's night time paintings, that was completed this year.

Before the Dawn, the Cat's Back Ridge, Herefordshire
Oil on Real Chalk Gesso
Coral G Guest


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Coloured Grounds, Commissioned Artworks, and the Painter

Firstly, this is to acknowledge every one of the three hundred and four people who wrote to me from around the globe sending congratulations and good wishes with regard to the commission of the 1,000th painting for Shirley Sherwood Collection. I have read and  replied to everyone of these messages, as I don't ever want to take for granted those who have taken the time to write something positive and happy. I will never have the pleasure of meeting most of you who wrote to me, but your kindness will stay with me, always.

Those of you who will read Shirley Sherwood's new book will experience something of the planning that went into this commission. It has been documented for a very distinct reason, with imagery and an essay, which show and describe my ways of working.

This kind of documentation has been one of my ongoing methodologies since being an art student in the 1970s. This is something that Fine Art has always considered a worthy pursuit. This kind of documentation serves two purposes: Firstly, it provides a sound and reliable archive for present and future generations who may wish to research my work. Secondly, it offers a description of how to navigate a way through, from beginning to completion, when working on a commissioned artwork.

To set the record straight: My work output is approximately 20-30 percent of commissioned projects per annum. I trained and continue as a Painter from a Fine Art and Art History background. Therefore I mostly work spontaneously and independently developing my notions and intent.

Confessionally, I am a workaholic, but I care very little about being famous, and prefer a hermit life to that of attention seeking. However, I hope I am not stupid and I do recognise the value and the purpose of acknowledgement, communication and information. I care fundamentally about the quality of the work that I do, I aim to be a better painter, and hope to successfully pass on what I know. I have an avid interest in abstract paintings by American and British Artists, and also a love of the historic Song Dynasty approach to the arts. Since visiting China in 1988, I dream of a wonderful global future where all can have the time and confidence to express their creativity. In case I have made you feel utterly sick from this description of my ethic, you might like to know that I fail regularly and often get things totally and utterly wrong.

Commissioned work is something I have worked with because this is a measure of an artist's ability to engage on different levels and seize the opportunity to work with something unexpected and new. It is not simply a means to add income, it is much more. For a painter, commissioned work has perhaps a more universal and positive overtone than the reactions to commissioned work that I receive from artists from a graphic arts background. Some understandably wish to avoid the pressure, the stress, and the living in the unknown that may accompany a commissioned project.

With all this said and done, working with a commissioned artwork and collaborating with those who commission an artwork, is a complex and co-operative endeavour that works best when mutual respect and trust is present. So many artists have written to me saying how they find commission work both angst making and even terrifying, and would like guidelines. I'm told that guidelines are more easily obtainable for those doing commercial work in the field of illustration, but these are mainly practical and financial. What many people have asked me is how I work with a Collector to fulfil a commission and navigate the work emotionally, intellectually, and mentally.

With this recent work on the Davidia involucrata, I have documented all the technical processes, including some resulting emotional responses. The essay does not prescribe reverting to emotion, but rather it touches upon managing emotion in a conscious way. My work does not make a virtue of focusing energy into extreme emotive or complaining reactions, rather it processes reactions as part and parcel of the endeavour. Emotions are there for a reason, and I proceed by managing any difficulties as an adult experienced artist, and this essay is partly a demonstration of  how I do it.

I have not yet seen Shirley Sherwood's new book, but I know it is very beautiful. I do not know how much editing of this essay on the Davidia involucrata has been necessary, because its a long essay. The essay in full is now the property of the Shirley Sherwood Collection, and it will be there in perpetuity to serve, mentor and support future generations of botanical artists and the botanical art community in their quest.

The various techniques involved in this particular commission of the Davidia involucrata are quite diverse. The essay explains everything you may like to know about the project. One of the most commented upon images that have so far been released, is that of the preparation of the coloured ground for the painting. This is the image:

I often work on the floor painting grounds, as this comes partly from my training in Calligraphy in Japan and partly from studying with Ken Kiff and Sean Scully as a painting student at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Most painters will generally differ from illustrators in that if they work with a coloured ground they will paint the image over this ground. This way of working is something of the mark of the genuine painter, who generally does not 'go around' their image with a background colour. As an example, when I have watched artists documenting how they paint around an image with black paint, I watch their approach knowing that this is not what an experienced painter would actually do.

But how would you know if you have never known, or ever been given the information or experimented enough to work it out for yourself? The point to remember may be that if you label yourself as a Fine Artist and describe your work as Fine Art, its always a good idea to know what Fine Art - as in the field of Painting - actually is and what it actually does. A painting is not simply a large illustration displayed as wall art. A painting, however petite, has the whole of art history supporting it. This is the history of a world of abilities, of methodologies, attitudes and knowledge that are distinctly separate from illustration techniques. Painting is a law unto itself.


Friday, September 20, 2019


In April of this year, BBC2 showed a documentary of the superlative Sean Scully's work, directed by Nick Willing, and beautifully entitled:

Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything

As always, when a good phrase or title pops up many artists will use it often without acknowledgement of its source. As a good example, the word Everything has, in a few short months, become a sound bite for artists of different disciplines. 

There is no way of knowing if descriptive words are plagiarised, or something in the Zeitgeist, or a measure of both. Scully though, stays ahead of the curve.  

Relating this to the twenty-first century decline of meaningful art criticism that Scully really understands and talks about, it is perhaps understandable that plagiarism exists, and perhaps it is something we can begin to make sence of. 

So far as plagiarism goes, it is a cruel thing to practice. Words, as well as artworks, can take years of devoted work to evolve in an artists practice, and they often come to the mind as a kind epiphany.

I favour the development of understanding around the use of words to describe art practice, and the ongoing revelation of copying in the art world has begun to be exposed by many who are no longer afraid to say when they see it happening. 

On my website you will see a page on the top menu entitled the Realm of Flowering Plants, this has some citations from a discourse on Flower Painting. I have used the phrase Realm of Flowers since 1986, partly and deliberately because it is not a scientific phrase. It has an intense meaning that I can justify in relation to Flower Painting. I recently saw that someone had used this phrase, unfortunately without an explanation. It is perhaps worth remembering that Realm of Flowers is not an acceptable scientific phrase in the world of botanical illustration or art. 

On a final note, this Arena documentary on BBC4 is available for another ten days on BBC iplayer:


This film documents the life and times of the Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. It is initially a saddening shock to watch. At one point she describes how two very major artists in the avant garde of the New York art world in the 1960s, plagiarised some of the landmark ideas in Pop Art from her work. Anyone who sees this film has to come to their own conclusions about this revelation. The film follows how Kusama, after enduring considerable emotional distress following the theft of her ideas, is now in her 80s and stands alone as the most famous, and highly-priced, living female artist in the entire world. 

The moral in this story might well be that you cant keep a good artist down, and true talent will out in the end. To those I mentor, I will always say this:

Instead of taking the easy way out, take the long slow route to understanding yourself because if you can trust who you are you will always pass through any influence, which is a natural thing for a young artist to do. Influence, when acknowledged openly is a useful rite of passage, and if this is dealt with openly you will never need to plagiarise the originality of others because your own originality will begin to shine through to you.

Sunday, September 08, 2019


The Shirley Sherwood Collection
Botanical Art over 30 Years
Shirley Sherwood

Book Cover: Strelitzia nicolai by Beverly Allen, Shirley Sherwood Collection

This new book is the retrospective of my collection
Shirley Sherwood

The new book by Shirley Sherwood will be available in October.

Read the book description on the Amazon page to discover the details of the monograph of this unique Botanical Art Collection and the exceptional life and times of Shirley Sherwood OBE, the world renown Art Collector. 

Acknowledged for being the driving force for the renaissance of Botanical Art, Shirley Sherwood has has travelled the globe for over thirty years in her quest to acquire and exhibit the world's most superlative botanical artworks.

This is a landmark book about a collection and a collector that has achieved so much to raise awareness and honour the plant kingdom and the artists whose work is devoted to representing it.

The book description on the Amazon book page describes the 1,000th painting for the Shirley Sherwood Collection, and reveals who painted the artwork.


A future post on this blog will show the finished artwork, which will be on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery in a new retrospective exhibition of her collection, from 16th November 2019 until mid March 2020.

In the meantime, here is an image of the work in progress.


This was photographed in the summer of 2018, when the work was commissioned and completed.


The work is of the Davidia involucrata - known as the Pocket Handkerchief, or Dove Tree. 

Coral Guest in her studio with the painting of the Davidia involucrata in progress.

Copyright of the Shirley Sherwood Collection

Monday, September 02, 2019

Train Journeys with an Artwork

Further to my previous post on travel, and as many have requested to see more photographs of me - which is not so easy as I am fundamentally a shy person underneath of it all, not glamorous and quite plain. So here is a selfie of me travelling on an empty early morning Thameslink train, earlier this summer. I am delivering a painting before the morning rush hour. This is something I have done by train since my early student days. I always travel on an early train to avoid taking-up space during busier travelling hours. Last week, I attempted to calculate how many of my smaller artworks I may have delivered this way. It is probably more than 500, and when I also attempted to calculate the reduction this has made in my carbon footprint since 1972, I was really amazed by how much air pollution I have avoided creating by not driving. Occasionally, if I haven't had enough sleep, the train rocks me into a light slumber before the noisy rattling of the empty carriages or the unexpected opening of train doors at a station on the route, will suddenly wake me. There have been hundreds of lovely people met on these solitary journeys.These are people who often have their own remarkable story to tell about their reasons for travelling so early in the morning. I have travelled on trains throughout the world, and the most extraordinary views from the windows were in China in 1988, and Switzerland in 2006. The most efficient system I have encountered was the beautifully organised rail network in the Netherlands. In over ten years of travelling there from 1992 onwards, I never ever encountered a late or a cancelled departure. I have one lifelong desire for a certain train journey, which remains unfulfilled. This is to travel with a landscape sketch book on the Orient Express train. Its a wistful romantic dream, and I sometimes imagine what this might be like when I am travelling on the early morning stop-train through the suburbs of greater London.

Friday, May 31, 2019


This Blog is now on its summer holiday, whilst I follow some commissioned work into the wild blue yonder. Wishing you all, especially my lovely and highly valued group of followers, a wonderful summer of flower power and sunshine.

POST SCRIPT - Some thoughts on travelling

'Artist and Traveller are two of the various and closely connected titles with which I have identified. I refer to these as an interlock, which I sometimes term a filigree of places, plants and landscapes, which have both thrilled and encouraged my exploratory spirit and my innate romantic nature. Artist and Traveller sounds glamorous doesn't it? Well actually the association of art with travel is something that I have rethought and redefined to myself, simply out of necessity'

My botanic website has the unusual addition of a time line page, which I have entitled Chronos. This is a gradual accumulation of small written icons of my development as both artist and traveller. It includes a lot of airline travel, in earlier years.

As a four year old, my maternal grandparents accompanied me on my first visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on the Easter Bank Holiday of 1960. In so doing, they ignited a spark of creative imagination that has burned as a beacon throughout my life. My first experience of the Palm House containing hot house plants with huge leaves, and a fantasy tall tower known as a Pagoda, were features we passed on our first circular walk in the gardens before arriving at a small plain building that is now adjacent to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. This unassuming gallery house was and still is, the Marianne North Gallery.

This building was inviting to me as a four year old because it seemed from the outside to be akin to the open verandas of the south coast English hotels, where my family would meet to have tea and stare out to sea. However, when the doors to this building at Kew were opened, a revelation of flora and landscape in psychedelic measures flew out from all corners. What made my head reel and my feet feel as if they were floating above the tiled floor, were the omnipresent paintings contained therein.

This post is not actually about the unique and exceptional national treasure whom we know as Marianne North, rather it is to highlight that what she could and did do was achieved at a time when the issues of climate change and planetary damage through global warming were not on the political agenda. 

Much of her work shows the purity of landscape and the untouched elements of plant life before the many aspects of  destruction and change occurred in later generations. Much of Marianne's work can show us what we have lost.

Marianne, as an artist explorer, paved the way for many lone women travellers to follow in her footsteps and paint the world's plants. However, what we now carry as a thorny knowledge as well as the subtext of a message - or as many now view it, the ever growing elephant filling the room - is that global warming and climate change is seriously exacerbated by the ubiquitous use of the car and the aeroplane, which many artists use to get from A to B.

2002 was the last time that I travelled on a long haul flight. 2017 was the last time I took a short two hour flight. Since then, I have changed my mode of transport to boat and train and bus and low emission car. I have further developed more of my of my work in the UK, specifically focusing around the plants I have grown myself in our home garden. I shall travel again by plane, but when I see it as a necessity and only because I feel I have balanced this with years of conscious restraint.

This has not compromised my career, and I have not used this as means to gain points. It is only now that I have begun to talk about what is possible, because I have been practicing for some time. Its a personal choice, and I don't prescribe to others. It's simply that I could not justify working on projects that depended on the use of continuous short and long haul flights around the globe. I am concerned with common sense, and the people who look at my work expect this kind of glamour-free approach from me. 

If I had not experimented in this way, I would probably not have engaged in the whole issue of Phenology and would not have seen how it extended and expanded my botanic work when I began to keep data on the reaction of my cultivated hybrid peonies to both subtle and extreme differences in climate from year to year in the UK. 

In earlier years, many unexpected and positive results came from teaching literally hundreds of people globally how to paint flowers at both Kew and in the Master Classes for Dr Sherwood, from 1997 to 2002. My teaching facilitated the coming together of many new artists from around the globe. The teaching was something that artists took back with them, to help establish a system of working knowledge in their own countries.

But I am by no means the only artist concerned, as there is a building wave of artists exploring an engagement with their own indigenous flora that is unique and specialised. They recognise that as artists, they are the honourable custodians of their indigenous and unique botanical environment.

The overwhelmingly fabulous success of the Worldwide Botanical Art Day in 2018 is evidence of this culture of creative independence. Paintings and Illustrations of indigenous plants became an expression of artistic self reliance by artists globally co-creating a spectacular event of sharing. It was nothing short of a revelation, as each country's artists observed and virtually marvelled at what each other had produced. 

This was an extraordinarily balancing act of self sustaining creativity. They got it absolutely right. These artists recognise that there is no need to increase their carbon footprint by travelling to the places that are far and away, because they have so much of value and importance in their own country.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and has asked me where I am going to be travelling to this summer. This year, I shall be quietly working away in the UK and will ponder during the long evenings on other favoured places, as I dream of possibilities.

Monet's Garden at Giverny taken in 1994.
During a teaching course organised by The Artist Magazine.


Thursday, March 07, 2019

Does the Botanical Art Genre Need to Move Forward?

Tulipa 'Green Wave'
Detail of Bloom
Watercolour on paper
Coral G Guest

If you have so far not read the previous post, please do so before reading this response, as it will place the following in perspective.

The following positive agenda is here to offer you my individual opinion, which I emphasis is personal and not prescriptive.

I would like to see Botanical and Scientific Illustration, Observational Flower Painting, and Digital Botanical Illustration all maintained, accepted and focused, as individual approaches within the one genre of Botanical Art as a unified body that is a direct response to the natural world.

The phrase - A Direct Response to the Natural World - is key in this specific opinion.

Observational painting and drawing of botanical subjects is a direct response to nature through traditional artistic skills. Digital Botanical Illustration is a direct response to nature through photography.

The leaning towards accuracy in both observational painting and drawing and pure digital botanical illustration, are similar in intent. I'm suggesting that film making is also a direct response to nature, and that this might also one day find its way into the botanical art genre as part of a new contemporary approach.

In my humble opinion, the pictures that are painted from photographs, or from photographic images projected onto a canvas or paper, and all botanical illustrations that have the drawing aspects traced from photography over which there is observational painting, have a similar characteristic, which is this:

When a botanical artwork moves from the plant specimen, to the photograph, and then onto a final painting or drawing that is made from that photograph, this creates another layer within that artwork that removes it from the auspices of direct observation. A painting from a photograph of a plant is not a painting from observation. A painting from a photograph of a plant is only that, a painting from a photograph of a plant.

Because I view that there is a specific need in Botanical Art to maintain consistency and the quest for observational accuracy, I am suggesting that the paintings and illustrations that are painted and drawn from photographs belong not in the Botanical Art genre but in the bigger picture of the Art World and also the commercial need of applied illustration and graphic design.

There is a place for everything, and this suggestion is based on a need to give clarity and intent to the Botanical Art genre and to maintain a level of integrity. My personal integrity is based on a direct response to nature through observational painting and drawing. This is an ongoing quest, based on experience and the need to keep aiming to improve, in spite of the flaws in my talent and my skill.

Emphatically, a painting from a photograph is a painting from a photograph, it is not a painting from life. It is my hope that all botanical artists working by direct copying photographs will feel confident enough to make it known that this is their approach to making artworks, and to explain what they are doing and to honour and champion it. This may then open a whole new playing field for future exploration into realism in botanical painting and all that it invokes.

Foot Note:  8th March 2018

Thank you to the 45 emails that I awoke to this morning, which have come in response to the previous post of yesterday.

I recognise and appreciate that many associated with the Botanical Art genre do not agree with me. If it happens that I continue to receive hate mail for my opinions and suggestions, and thus consider the stress too much to bear, I shall remove both this and the previous post. I like discussions to be open and above board, and would like to see the observational integrity of Botanical Art maintained.

Once again, the views expressed in this post and the previous post from yesterday, are politically  neutral, and simply one simple view that is not aimed at being an agent provocateur.

This post is definitely also not aimed at exposing any of the ways in which some artists work that is entirely private to them, nor is it intended to make anyone feel guilty for using photographic references for painting and drawing. Rather it is aimed at freeing any artist from any such burden of angst. This dialectic does not intend to disrespect the works of artists from previous generations who championed the use of photographic reference rather than direct painting from observation.

The aim of this, and the previous post, is simply to lay everything on the table and to support the idea of  making sense of the issues that we face through Botanical Art in the contemporary world as well as from our history, so that it can move forward successfully, should it need to move forward. As far as I am aware, I am the only botanical painter prepared to stand up publicly, through this blog, for what I believe in. Perhaps it is easier for me because I am established and have nothing to prove, and therefore can champion the cause for others who are afraid to speak out on this issue.