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.


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Painting Directly From Life - Is It Different?


Photosynthesis Series 2009
The Timeline of Minerals in the Life of the Winter Green - Cool Shadow
acrylic on board
122 x 91 cm

Sometimes, as you may have previously read, the inquires and requests come to me in clusters, and when it reaches what feels like a critical mass, I respond on this blog. Over the past two days I have received over 12 requests to see the above 2009 picture of this edible Winter Green leaf. 

This work is actually available to view permanently on The Edibles page of my botanic website. This work is perhaps unusual in that it is painted in acrylic on canvas, and also painted directly from life over an enlarged but very simple outline drawing. It also includes a shadow from the light source to throw the image into relief.

For security reasons, the above painting is here represented by a fairly low res scan, and as you look at the image on your screen it is obviously much smaller than the original. The original work is actually much more freely painted that you might expect. Working large scale and then reducing the imagery before making a print, is one of the old school ways of effectively creating a sharper and more detailed image. Designers would do this for reproduction purposes, and its a very useful tool.

Those who paint from life, will doubtless appreciate that it is sometimes a laborious process to upscale and paint directly from life. I don't consider it a chore, but rather a commitment to time and precision. Many talented people value drawing as a basis for painting and many see it as an expression of their talent. Working from a photograph will tend to inhibit the talented, so this is why we avoid it. Through working directly from life, we experience direct engagement with the plant life itself.

I sometimes paint enlargements for commissioned work, but have mostly painted large scale precision works in actual life-size, sometimes using the whole of a 5 foot size of paper. Perhaps the unusual thing with my work is that it is painted from observation and directly from life. Sometimes this may include the struggle to unify the perspective across the whole surface of the large sheet of paper, or a canvas. 

Many botanical artists sometimes create large scale works that are painted from photographs by over-painting a projection of a photograph from a tablet. This can easily save the artist from drawing-out the image before painting it, and this is something I can entirely see might be very useful when working against time. 

I prefer a direct engagement with the plant when I am painting, simply because it fills me with a sense of being alive myself. The negative side of this way of working is that the plant may die before the work is completed, which can actually be stressful. And so I aim to paint fast over a long working day. 

I would very much like to see a new anthology website that exclusively honours the botanic works of many world-wide artists who paint directly from life, in the fields of both fine art and illustration. This is simply because this will help other artists as well as collectors and curators to understand the reality of working from observation and what it means to stand and be there with the live plant matter. For the many who work this way it is a wonderful experience. Perhaps one day someone will come forward and create this kind of website. 

At some point, I may decide to intentionally use some photographic imagery in a future project. If this does happen, I will attempt to use it openly and show you the photograph itself alongside the actual painting. This is only because it will help clarify what is being done and to bring the painting that is created with the use of photography out from the metaphoric shadows. 

I fully appreciate that designers and illustrators need to use photography. In addition, not everyone wants or feels the need to learn to draw from observation. The use of photography as digital plant illustration is necessarily an approach that has a very specific and purposeful path in the future of Botanical Art, and this is something that I absolutely love to see happening. I would also love to see more artists developing this new craft. 

Painting from the photographic image and not making clear that this is what has been done, may cause a definite confusion to art viewers and collectors alike. If it is not made clear, the viewer will always assume that the work is painted directly from life. Perhaps it may be useful to exhibit the photograph that is being used alongside the painting itself, and perhaps even credit the professional photographer, if one has been employed?

In the meantime, this post is here to hopefully represent the views of many, and to very respectfully emphasise that I do not see that its right or wrong to use photography. Rather, I understand that there is a possible need for how an artwork is achieved to be explained to those who collect and curate works of art. In the bigger picture of the fine art world of painting and drawing, this kind of approach has been standard practice for a very long time.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Following In The Footsteps


In 1987, after the opening of the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, I undertook a year of private study to further understand the role of the rapid watercolour sketch in the work of landscape painter JMW Turner. The sketch books and the single page small studies that most interested me were those of the rocky cliff faces and grey skylines of North Yorkshire, and the soft colour beginnings of Venice.

With the consequential and growing desire to experience the works of JMW Turner by observing the places he himself painted, I travelled to the north of England and followed his footsteps across north Yorkshire. I was 33, and was absorbed in the traditional approach of following in a great artist's footsteps. This is an activity that is key to fulfilling the ongoing education of a landscape painter. After many years of further investigation, I finally made it to Venice when I was 41.

As a traditional process, such journeys are commonly undertaken by artists as a rite of passage. For many professional painters, this continues well into later life as a means of developing their process. Its something that we landscape painters have always done. As a disciple of the French painter Claude LorrainJMW Turner travelled to some of the known pastoral views of the Roman landscapes that were featured in Claude's visionary works.

In 1998, I gave a Botanical Master Class at the Cipriani Hotel for Dr Shirley Sherwood. After the course was completed, I was gifted with a week's holiday in this wonderful hotel. We spent much of those glorious days travelling across the Venetian Lagoon by motor launch simply watching and absorbing the watery colourings of the kind seen by Turner in that magical place.


'Sketch book paintings made directly from life are incredibly popular now. It is because art viewers appreciate the levels of intense spontaneous risk-taking that brings this kind of work into being.

My sketchbooks record a time and place in sequence and the pages are painted on both sides. Once closed, the images within the book revert to the realm of unseen content.

In contrast, making an original print takes time and involves hands-on work. I felt that my sketchbook images deserved to be brought into the light of day through this kind of authentic printmaking process.

A forthcoming new edition of hand pulled original screen prints are currently in progress.These will enable some of the rapid Icelandic Sketch Book paintings to be made visible as individual artworks outside of the sketch book format.

Each print has a layer of text held on the surface of the image. This inclusion, in the newly named Strata Edition, offers a filtered atmospheric layer of meaning that occupies other levels of my observational experience as a landscape painter'

Coral G Guest

Available in November 2019
Limited Edition Screen Prints
Text and Images from the Iceland
Light into Dark sketch book

View the progress of the Strata Edition

Blue Coda
Hand Lifted Screen Print

Walking in White
Hand Lifted Screen Print


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Night Time Painting from the Archive 1984

Direct Night Paintings Series 1984
Beneath a Sunflower, Starry and by Moonlight - Homage to Vincent

oil on real handmade chalk gesso on board
30 x 90 cm

'Have edited this post from the previous published post, to encompass the whole triptych, rather than a detail of one panel. It is because there is a little more to see and to be said:

My aim herein, is to offer an example of my early days of artistic and creative development. Painting directly from life in the open air was, and still is, something quite spectacular and monumental to do. This process offers the young painter an opportunity to develop a level of insight and understanding that itself generates more awareness as life and work evolves. This particular kind of knowledge is only obtained by direct observational contact with the reality of the world itself. As this experience develops from year to year, it feeds an inner place and time that the artist responds to as both the wildness of nature and the wilderness of the isolated self. It also shows us the insecurity that we live through in our unconscious selves.

According to my notes from 1984, I almost painted over this triptych. I intended to do so not least because it is a rather poor homage to Van Gogh's time in the South of France. However, I changed my mind when poised above it with a brush filled with white primer. I recall stepping back, simply because I recognised how necessary it is to me to keep the most unsuccessful of the outdoor experiments, as well as the most successful ones. 

I was also reflecting upon how Claude Monet used to build bonfires with his friend the painter Gustave Courbet, where both ceremoniously burnt their works that they considered second rate, and therefore wanted no one to see. This kind of destruction is always a consideration that might be advantageous to an artist. However, this particular work of mine escaped being burned or over-painted, and I am now nostalgically pleased that it survived to show me something of the developmental path of the work. 

All young professional artists are in some ways egocentrically compelled to strive to be successful, some by a manic need to seek attention through being viewed in a 'post truth' light that they themselves choose. 

A long look at Van Gogh during my youth, confirmed me as someone who started out as a teenager seeking attention, who then began to see painting as a form of self development rather than a means to fame. A number of master works by major painters changed my attitude from the desperation to sell, to an inner focus upon the personal and private relationship to painting as a vocation. 

Having a devotional process as a painter will not sell the work, but in retrospect, selling work is never guaranteed anyway. Experience has shown me one thing, which is that conversely it is the most originally ingenuous and sincere works that have always been sold. 

It is also very good to keep the worst looking works, because they give encouragement to ourselves as future artists. Even if they have no other value, the rejected works teach us that we don't really know what we are doing at the time, and that the work is always experimental. We often don't have the separation or enough detachment to understand the value the work has at the time it is painted, or what it really means to the bigger picture. Not every painting is worthy, but each painting has a specific worth in an artists scheme of development.

The triptych, as well as the diptych, has featured on and off, in my output over the years. It comes as a nod to the monumental medieval retables of medieval France. France itself has featured as a place to be for me, in my youth. Whereas Iceland, the great love of my landscape life, has been the place wherein I face the timed fulfilment of its great arena of elements. 

When an artist friend recently asked me about my feeling toward Iceland, I could only describe my experience as one of falling in love, which came out of the blue, during my first visit there in 2007. This was an unexpected and strange love. It engenders a great sense of both fear and excitement, which enables me to encounter a sense of surrender when faced with Iceland's sublime nature. This initially resulted in me simply leaving a part of my psychic self in this place. And so I seek sometimes, to reclaim this piece of myself through the act of painting the Icelandic places.

To me it is clear that every landscape artist finally settles in a place wherein they are held in a love that can only be expressed by the actual doing of the work.

Regarding the above Sunflower triptych from 1984 - it utilises the method traditionally known in France as premier coup, and in Italy as alla prima. This has come to be described as simply direct painting within our British tradition of working in the field, and sometimes also as en plein air - a delightful French prosaic term.

This is a curiously confident and mannered process of working wherein every single brush stroke has a say in the final image, and each makes a contribution to the finished work. Such works are not over-painted or in receipt of varnishes or glazes. The work is raw, perhaps too raw. When we look at what has been done, it is often not pretty.

During this particular trip to the South of France, I travelled with a group of fellow painters who all engaged in this method of working. No photography was used. No plant life was cut down. No studio space was ever required. The air, the variable atmospheres, the acceptance of the simplicity of circumstance all circulated and enveloped us as we worked in silence with the company of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals on the vast hillsides of Arles. Night time work became a ritual, fast and furious, rapid and exhilarating, with a view to achieving a spontaneous accuracy and the devotion to capturing the twilight and the moonlight casting of many deep shadows.

The above three Sunflowers are also a little something from the archive to offer some support to all who have asked to see one of my early career night-time paintings, and for those who have confessed to feeling cut-off from the reality of what exists all around them, declaring a sense of 'being disconnected' through perhaps too much painting from photographic imagery. 

I applaud anyone who feels drawn to painting outside and directly from life, whilst honouring the sounds of the natural world and avoiding the machinations of digital music, preferring instead to be accompanied by the soft beauty of attentive inner silence as it overlays the natural cacophony of landscape. 

If you yourself decide to try painting amid a landscape, whether it be rural of metropolitan, please always remember to inform others where you will be, go to known safe places with trusted friends or guides after doing sufficient research on your chosen place. Never ever take risks when working out in the field, especially at night.'

Coral G Guest 2019
copyright - all rights reserved


Saturday, December 22, 2018


To the Flower Painter, love is everything.

I have sought to bring its development into the 21st century through merging a deep personal interest in critical thinking with the practice of accomplished creative techniques and processes. By fusing these two aspects in the arena of popular culture, I hope to bring a new attitude to this ancient art, and contribute to what I see is a multi-dimensional awareness of plant life, based on who we are and where we are now.

From this point, my teaching work has always been focused not on replicating myself but on enabling the many interested people, far and wide, to develop their individual uniqueness to the work they love and the plant life they respect and adore.

Coral G Guest 2018

2018 Take Me Home Series - Narcissus 'Sky Rocket'
Rapid and Spontaneous Color Study from life
watercolour on paper
Coral Guest

The Study of natural form and its relationship to space has formed a life-long experimental inquiry through which I have sought to free the flower subject from the still life genre and place it at centre stage.

Coral G Guest 2018

The soft energy path of certain words has filtered through my thoughts over the years and never more so when at the beginning of 2018, I sought to write some worthwhile text for my new botanic website. The words were thought-through, with each one cherished as an acute and finely tuned explanation of my botanic work.

Inclined towards an inspirational context, these words are imbued with a measure of interested joy in descriptive introspection and the continuous agenda of critical thinking.

The phrases within each sentence, such as those which refer to placing the subject at centre stage are my individual way of supporting and revealing to my viewers, collectors and students, the manner in which I relate inclusively to plant life as a painter and draughtswoman.

My favourite created words used within my micro essays, long essays, website and blog descriptions over this past year are as follows:

As well as centre-stage, other phrases I have chosen as descriptive expressions of my work are seamless, multi-dimensional, old into new, and inclusive to name but a few. At times I endeavour to describe the work of other artists, whom I admire, in a similar or same language. 

These words are written from my lone and perhaps curious perspective. They embrace a way to describe and support the work flow as a conscious act of spontaneous creativity. 

Perhaps my favourite phrase of 2018 is glamour-free, which encapsulates a multitude of graces from the attitude of painting from life in a pure naturalistic northern light, and in the open field. In so doing it represents an attitude to the work that is focused upon representing the reality, which is absent of the need to glamorise through artificial lighting. This allows me both the freedom to present the work and my awareness as a living expression of the ordinary truth. I view this as being more than observation, rather it is a way of being. Natural light and plant life are to me inseparable.

Next year will reveal some of this year's work that has not yet been shown. By necessity this has needed to remain confidential until circumstances allow it to be released. This work champions the art of the commissioned piece of Fine Art, because it emphasises that long gone are the days when a commissioned work was thought of as inferior and secondary.

Commissioning and commissioned work in the big wide world of contemporary art has been taking its place centre stage in the bigger picture, through major and emerging art collections, for some time now.

For 2019, I am focusing on additional new phrases and phases, such as how collaboration can be a focused and seamless soft energy path that measures and magnifies creative co-operation
You perhaps have noticed that I also enjoy playing with alliteration in these descriptions.

What all of this actually means in practice, I hope to show more of the work itself, over the coming year.

In the meantime, this a very appreciative thank you to everyone who has written to me over this past year in their own words, to describe their much loved connections with the art of Flower Painting and its path into their every day life.

I am now gladly continuing to support those of you who have an individual quest to find your own unique way of writing about botanic work. Its been a gift to read your letters. Without exception, they all have been a beautiful measure of your personal and truthful endeavour and ingenuity. Like a spark, it lives within you and only needs your allowance.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

INKQ NEWSPAPER - the new 4th edition

Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidian - b - detail (Study)
Macoto Murayama

© Macoto Murayama

Inky leaves, aka the wonderfully creative Jess Shepherd, is now publishing the 4th Edition of the beautiful, intriguing and absolutely fascinating INKQ newspaper.

This latest copy includes fabulous artworks by Macoto Murayama, Polly Sutherland, Saara Karpinnen, and Coral G Guest. Also included, are scientific papers by Dr Hugh Morris, and Scott Beadle FRAS, and an article on Snowflakes by Snezana Lawrence.

My featured piece is a small spontaneous landscape painting in oil, depicting a short few minutes of intense blue in the half light of the evening sky. This is a rapid study, painted directly from life at 10pm in mid-summer, on the beach at Scheveningen in The Netherlands.

In the accompanying piece of writing, I describe my early childhood observations of aerial perspective, and how I consequently came to begin a series of small works entitled Into the Wild Blue Yonder. This, and other art works in the new and previous editions of INKQ, corresponds with Jess' current investigation into the colour Blue. 

A new feature of this edition is the publication's first downloadable MP3 Soundtrack entitled Black Lux by the musician Derek Thompson to mark the 50th anniversary of the cinematic release of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey - the sci-fi masterpiece directed by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by Arthur C Clarke.

I had the privilege of seeing this film in London when it was first released in 1968. Captured instantly by its mystery, this became one of my all-time favourite movies. I was 12 years old, and I saw the film thirteen times in following weeks when it was shown to audiences across the suburbs of north-west London.

INKQ newspaper has a forward thinking and inclusive approach to its blending of art and science. I view the design and the content as being a balanced and seamless jigsaw of image and text. This is achieved through its presentation of complimentary themes that are both visionary, and analytical. There is a distinct acceptance that the arts and sciences, which were once considered to be two journeys of separate parts, are now on a course to become at One with each other.

The survival of the innovative INKQ depends upon many readers resubscribing after Christmas.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Lilium regale Essay from the RHS Lindley Library

This is post contains the essay written for the RHS Lindley Library on the painting of the Lilium regale. As a prelude to this publication, a short introduction is included here.


Visitors at the RHS Lindley Library, Botanical Art Seminar Day, 2018 

© Claire Collins/RHS  

Visitors at the RHS Lindley Library, Botanical Art Seminar Day, 2018 

© Claire Collins/RHS 

This post is hopefully a comprehensive reply to the many artists, gardeners, students and art collectors, who have written to me personally with questions about artwork documentation and with a request to read my essay that accompanies the Lilium regale painting in the Royal Horticultural Society’s contemporary botanical art collection.

By kind permission of Charlotte Brooks, RHS Art Curator, and Fiona Davison, Head of Libraries and Exhibitions, I am pleased to publish the essay in this blog post.

As a citation, this and all contemporary botanical artist’s documentation, offers insight and leaves a record of what it is to be a botanical artist today. Each artist’s process is unique and everyone has a characteristic way of talking or writing about their work. Many artists who are new to this pursuit would simply like to view further examples of how it is done in order to develop their own individual approach.

The following Lilium regale essay is focused on two interlinked features:

Firstly - the process of observational painting and drawing directly from life.

Secondly - the importance of gardening to the creation of the artwork.

By publishing the unabridged essay here on this blog, I wish to uphold the unique but ongoing history of the practicing Artist Gardener. If the subject in general were further unearthed, it would doubtless reveal a world-wide vista of unique associations that are intriguing and unusual. 

Many painters come to Botanical Art as a direct result of being a gardener. Through a love of horticulture and tending plants, they have become artists. For some it is the reverse, the act of observational painting has brought them to gardening.

An artist feels a connection to the plant they have cultivated, and gardening offers a layer of meaning to a botanical artwork by allowing the artist to depict what they have understood from watching a plant grow.

The essay is published here with the intent to support the new RHS guidelines for artists wishing to exhibit their work at the RHS Botanical Art shows, whereby a short piece of descriptive writing is required to accompany the artwork.

My following example was specifically written for the Lindley Library archive and is longer than that required for an RHS Botanical Art show.

By offering a demonstration of how it could be done I hope to support those artists who are new to writing about their work. It is always worth remembering that what may seem insignificant to us as practicing artists and gardeners is often a subject of great fascination to a wider audience.

You might like to read an earlier post that covers the same subject of the Artist Gardener:

Here followeth the essay:

The Painting of the Lilium regale for the RHS Lindley Library

Coral G Guest

The Art of the Naturalistic Flower Painter

In 1999, when Brent Elliott asked me to paint a work for the Lindley Library Contemporary Botanical Art collection, I decided instantly upon the Lilium regale as the subject matter. It was my aim to present a work that would offer a clear example of the naturalistic approach, which I had developed over a series of years as a painter and draughtswoman from a fine art background. My work follows a timeline from a European artistic tradition that began with the naturalistic studies of plant life depicted in the illuminated manuscripts of the 13th century.

I work from live plant specimens, and this often involves growing the plants that I paint and draw. At the time of this commission, I was occupied with the accurate depiction of white flowers on white paper, using the purist method of watercolour painting wherein the brightest highlights are left unpainted and no actual white paint is used. I felt that in the post-modern world, Botanical Artists had not been particularly successful in this particular type of rendition - white flowers on a black background being the exception. My interest in creating imagery of white flowers on white paper coincided with the ongoing cultivation of various white lilies and other white blooms from bulb, corm, and tuber.

The Lindley Library commission therefore gave me the finest kind of opportunity, which was to paint a work depicting a much-loved flowering plant that forms a significant part of my personal history. This particular lily was one that I had grown up with and had seen blooming each year in our suburban English garden. It became a focus for learning the basics of plant propagation, which I was taught by my maternal grandparents who were part of a wartime generation of devoted gardeners.

Observation and Preparation

The Naturalistic Flower Painter works directly from life, through observational painting and drawing. The Lilium regale painting depicts a plant that was grown from a large bulb originally procured in 1996 from the RHS Gold Medal winning Bloms Bulbs.

The plant as subject matter defines the process of my work. The key to the practice of painting this lily directly from observation, was to understand its flowering time, the length of the flowering season, and the current weather patterns that were influential in the years 1999 and 2000. Having gardened with the Lilium regale from a young age, I understood its horticultural requirements from my own experience. A careful monitoring of the Lily was essential, as this allowed me to choose the right time to begin work in synchronicity with the plant. The studio was arranged and prepared one week before the lily actually flowered, during which time I prowled around the garden and the studio just waiting and observing.

I understood the Lilium regale as dependent upon my stewardship to grow and to flourish. Consequently, the preparation and the creation of the artwork were inextricably bound to this horticultural process.

For this work, I acquired a Fabriano Artistico 640gsm HP paper, Winsor and Newton Artists Watercolours, Da Vinci sable brushes, and an H pencil. The colour palette was: French Ultramarine, Permanent Magenta, Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Lemon Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna.

The dimensions of the paper, in size 56 x 76 cm, would allow me to include the inflorescence and a part of the stems in a life size rendition. Therefore, the bulb was not included in the RHS completed precision work. I did not wish to repeat the imagery of artists of previous generations who would cut the stem and place the bulb image beside it on the paper, as this would have been contrary to my naturalistic approach. However, the interest in the bulb remained, which was followed through in the Colour Study.

The Flower Painter as Gardener 

The tradition of Flower Painter as Gardener is a long and fruitful one. One of the earliest artists in the naturalistic tradition documented as being an avid gardener, was the renaissance artist Albrecht Dá˝’rer (1471-1528). The Lindley library commission of the Lilium regale follows his approach and includes my individual contribution to this genre in both technique and outlook.

The advantage to the Botanical Artist of growing plants in proximity of the studio is palpable. The lily had spent several years in a large clay pot, happily increasing its number of blooms each year. Lilies are known to do well in pots, and the pot-grown specimen is of great importance to any Botanical Artist who may need to bring the living plant into the studio. The bulb had been acquired as a fully developed specimen, which by early June of 2000 had sent forth an offset second stem with only two flower buds. I decided to include this within the artwork composition as it was growing alongside the main stem, which displayed a whole group of trumpet flowers from the original bulb. In the process of growing this white lily, the plant was staked in the pot to keep it safely upright. It was grown in a south facing location, on a slight slope in the garden, allowing maximum light.

At the point of flowering the heavy clay pot was carried into the studio by two people. The lily stayed in the studio during daylight hours whilst it was being drawn and painted. It was then returned to the cooler garden where it stayed over-night. When in the studio, the pot was raised or lowered to my eye level to enable me to view and depict the lily in a believable way. This required the application of perspective to portray the naturalism of the subject matter. The flowers were drawn out first and painted, thereafter the stem and leaves were completed to the same level.

The Natural Light of the Studio

Painting flowers from life demands a specific understanding of natural light. As a painter and gardener, I perceive plant life as inseparable from natural light and this is what I set out to represent. It was my intent for the Lilium regale to receive the full complement of light and shade from a north facing window. I was careful to avoid hard and contrasting shadows when depicting the trumpet form of the blooms. The white of the lily flowers also received a measure of reflected light from the white walls in the studio, which enabled further subtle description of the white colouring. I aimed for the blooms be understood as actually white in colour and separate from whiteness of the paper.

The modus operandi of painting from life in natural light is part of my ethic, therefore the work was not painted during the evening, and lamplight was not employed. I work in an almost empty white room with the one north facing window to convey a constant light source upon the plant. I paint on an upright painter’s easel to enable me to step back and forth from the image.

The Lilium regale work represents my philosophy to honour the natural beauty of plant life. I focus upon the unique characteristics of individual plants, which in 1991 I termed ‘the general demeanour’. This label denotes the characteristic disposition of the plant, its interaction with its surrounding space, and its manner of presenting itself as a system of related features.

The real and metaphoric space in which the plant is located, within the artwork, is represented by the white paper. A neutral plain background, as a foil for the image is the province of the Botanical Illustrator, which is in contrast to my work.  As an observational painter I seek a pictorial reality wherein space as a dimension is holding the image. In the Lilium regale work, I set out to balance the whiteness of the blooms with the whiteness of the space that the paper represents. This uniquely comes from the practice of large brush calligraphy in Japan, as a student in the late 1970’s.

The Colour Study

I recall clearly that I was commissioned by the Lindley Library for one precision work of the Lilium regale. I was not commissioned for the Colour Study works, which were a part of my individual exploration into the plant, and my way of acquiring a more thorough understanding of the subject. The Study Works were not in any way as popular then, as they are now. Because of this, I often took my own initiative and pushed them forward and often donated them. Colour studies are now accepted and collected as artworks in their own right.

The Lilium regale painting demanded colour study work to enable enough information to be gathered for a finished artwork. The colour studies were completed by depicting the chosen view of the blooms with their colouring. This was achieved by rapid work over several hours. 

The colour studies differ from the conventional preliminary sketches as they are created out of a sense of urgency and an immediate response to the plant. I was particularly interested in recording the white colouring of the blooms with their central golden gaze. The annotation enabled me to experiment and record the colour mixtures and the number of transparent layers that were required in a final precision painting.

This colour study work of the lily is essentially a product of my thinking process, and because of the spontaneity required, it is in some ways only legible to me. This is perhaps part of their fascination to the viewer, as it offers an insight into the thinking process of the artist.

For the Lilium regale, the colour study of the inflorescence, stem and leaves were painted first. Thereafter the whole plant was drawn out and painted as a precision work, wherein a high level of detail is observed and included. By the time the painting of the whole stem and inflorescence was complete, these elements were beginning to die back, and so I did what I would normally do as a gardener and cut the stem down to a few inches above the soil level.

I wanted to paint a study of the lily bulb because of the strange dichotomy between the floriferous light filled flowers and the gross impression of the swollen storage unit in the darkness of the earth.

In other smaller works, I had previously excavated bulbs and tubers whilst the plant was in full bloom and suspended the entire plant in the air via a system of threads. With the Lindley lily, I felt it would be a beautiful idea to include the soil in the Colour Study, particularly as the work was for the RHS and nature of the soil is relevant to the gardener.

When the precision painting was complete we placed it in storage and raised the plant pot to my eye-level in the studio. I then attempted to carefully remove a section of the pot in order to view the bulb in situ. I covered the floor of the studio and proceeded to gently chip away at the pot using a mallet and a small chisel. Eventually, a series of cracks appeared, and a triangular section of the pot fell away.

Chaos was anticipated and this experiment certainly lived up to my expectations. The pristine white studio room was peppered in composted soil, which seemed to fly everywhere and took days to eradicate in spite of the careful use of excavation brushes, a trug and a vacuum cleaner. However, it worked, and the bulb stayed in situ because the stem had been cut, and so it was held there with no extra weight placed upon it. I do not recommend trying this at home.

The lily bulb managed to stay in position for the colour study painting, being sprayed gently with water for the duration of the work. The bulb was then removed from the pot and replanted and the offset and bulblets were extracted and re-potted too. One of these bulblets grew into the 2007 lily painting in Shirley Sherwood Collection.

Painting White Flowers and the Neutral Tint Mixture

I came into the botanical art field to find that the genre was lacking in enough useful colour mixtures of greys and blacks to describe the shadows present in white flowers and to tone and shade the brilliance of bright hues.

The Lilium regale painting needed to portray the highlights, by leaving the white of the paper without any paint, and at the same time to depict the tones of the grey that describe the trumpet form. These tones of grey were created with the use of a Neutral Tint mixture.

I had begun prescribing the use of the Neutral Tint mixture in flower paintings in the early 1980s because this way of working came naturally to me as a landscape painter. The Neutral Tint is recorded as first being brought into the English landscape tradition of watercolour painting in the early 18th century. Various Neutral Tint recipes in the history of landscape painting have been used. Neutral Tint is the name given to any mixture of two or more colours that generates the colour black through to grey. Payne’s Gray is one such mixture. It was my specific intent to enable the Botanical Artist to move forward through the use of a contemporary version of Neutral Tint. The mixture I created is a combination of French Ultramarine, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Yellow. In the mixing process all colour values cancel each other out to become truly neutral. It is a gentler mixture than a pure black pigment, which tends to deaden a hue.

One traditional way of creating form in a botanical painting is to apply a tonal grey under-painting over which colour is layered. I tend not to take this approach because painting directly from life has demanded that I use a more expedient way of working.

I therefore mix the Neutral Tint in a separate small dish and add this mixture to the colours on the palette when I need to tone or darken them.  I then apply these mixed colours directly to the painting.

Through this process, I built a spectrum of colour and tone in the Lilium regale artwork that ranges from the light areas of the lily trumpets to the dark tones of the leaves and bulb.
Because my Neutral Tint recipe uses a blue, red, and yellow that are already present on my basic palette of colours, the resulting outcome was a harmonised botanical image of naturalistic colour that works in unity with a realistic representation of the plant form.

The bulb that grew the plant for this artwork has since then been referred to as our Lindley Lily. Its offspring continue to be propagated and are often studied in sketchbooks and paintings.

Copyright Coral G Guest 2018
All rights reserved

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