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 Dὒrer (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

Please note that this essay is not available as a download and may not be copied, pasted or photographed.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Copyright Reminder

My book Painting Flowers in Watercolour - A Naturalistic approach has in recent years been plagiarised by unscrupulous vendors who have attempted to offer this publication as an e-book on line.

No e-book has ever been officially published of this work. The book is now one of those monitored closely by the legal department of A&C Black Publishers. This is to detect further infringement of copyright and illegal use of material.

This kind of copyright infringement came to light when doing a simple search on line for the title of my book plus the words e-book.

If you are an artist/author, you may like to follow this lead, just to satisfy yourself that your book is safe. I genuinely hope that you find nothing of the kind that I discovered being offered for sale on line.

Moreover, this post is a kindly reminder that my book, although out of print, remains copyrighted.

This means that the content of the book is most definitely not available for publishing by artists who are writing their own books.

The book I wrote is not there to further the careers, or to provide material for other professional artists to use in their own books.

If permission is first requested to use material directly from the book, it will almost always be granted.

The same applies to this blog, or to both my websites.


Friday, August 31, 2018

The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition WALKING THE TALK

Pandanus - common screwpine

watercolour on paper

Coral G Guest

Exhibited in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 1995
Acquired by the Shirley Sherwood Collection

What goes around is said to come around and this week I received a series of emails all on the same subject, from Five Botanical Artists, Five Botanical Art Students (who are not my own students) and one Art Historian. 

They all have asked me the background story behind why I entered the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in 1996, and also asked to see an image of the piece I entered that was selected and exhibited in the show. 

The piece is shown above - apologies for the image quality, which was taken from a slightly faded colour slide.

I tend to favour cute idioms and Walking the Talk is a deceptively simple one, that is often inferred, often practiced, and is inherent in our culture. It describes the actual ability to practice in action what one advises others to do. This encompasses the considered ability to validate what one recommends, by being it and doing it oneself. 

Having had the privilege of being trained by artists and art historians and theorists who made this evident to me, I have chosen to honour this inheritance by endeavouring to practice what I preach. This means not simply advising those I mentor, but rather it means actually offering a demonstration as a means of advising. 

Over the years, one aspect of my individual role, has been to lead Botanical Artists along a pathway of encouragement so that they may integrate themselves fully into the Fine Arts, through both the development of techniques as well as through exhibiting their work. Everything I have encouraged others to do, I have first achieved or demonstrated myself. 

Open art competitions are an interesting area, where botanical artists once felt reluctant to dip their toes. Having observed this when such competitions first began to become popular in the 1990s, I was in the process of teaching at Kew. I hoped for good things to come for my students, so encouraged them to open their minds and reach further out into the bigger picture of the art world and broaden their scope. 

I don't have a specific interest in art competitions, and don't tend to enter them in general. However, I do appreciate their value, particularly to new artists. In 1996, to encourage my own students and other botanical artists to broaden their scope, I had the bright idea of entering a small botanical watercolour into the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition. It was then called the Singer Friedlander Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, because Singer and Friedlander were then funding the show. 

I did this because I felt that I would I have no right to advise my students to do this, if I could not first do it for myself.

By way of testing what might or might not be acceptable, I chose to enter this strange piece of botanical imagery. This common screwpine was collected by an explorer friend during his travels in the Seychelles.The small life-size painting was selected and exhibited in the Sunday Times Competition, but was not sold in the exhibition. It was later acquired by the Shirley Sherwood Collection, where it now lives.

I was really quite amazed to have this event in my history generously acknowledged by those who wrote to me. Perhaps it represents how the recent history of Botanical Art is being researched by individual practitioners, who want to know more about what happened to build the contemporary genre.

This week's emails came out of the blue, and I congratulate those who contacted me on their capacity to look deeper into the history of Botanical Art in open art competitions. Thank you for asking me for an explanation. In so doing, you have absolutely made my day. 

In addition, it is really lovely to know that Victoria Braithwaite's beautiful work will be shining brightly in this year's show. Do go and see the exhibition, if you can, as there is much to be understood and accrued about techniques and methods.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Beauty and Space - The World at One

Lady Black's Apple - Before the Pie Was Made 
Rapid Colour Study from Life
oil on paper
70 x 102 cm
Coral G Guest
Private Collection

The recognition of Beauty has become a sought after factor in Botanical Art, and it has become customary for artists to talk of its presence. Most Botanical Artists now wish to bring attention to the beauty of plant life through the documentation of their work as well as their websites and books, because it is what they believe in. 

The existence of Beauty may now begin to receive less mention, simply because it has become unconsciously and tacitly already accepted. 

For this acceptance of Beauty to grow in significance, it required a number of committed artists to stand up for it. This occurred towards the end of the last century. In so doing a door was opened, which invited others to follow. Beauty is now the norm.

This acknowledgement has allowed some forms of the Botanical Art genre to include aesthetics as a philosophical approach to the work. I have developed the notion of Beauty through Flower Painting simply because Flower Painting encapsulates an historic level of contextual awareness and a cultural understanding that is separate from scientific analysis. 

The development of aesthetics as an aspect of popular philosophy can bring a new level of content to Botanical Art. This could feed back into the genre as a whole by overtaking the simplistic need for creating a pleasing image.

New developments in contemporary art are often safeguarded by the fact that professional art historians are able to acknowledge what is happening. 

The New Flower Painting has evolved beyond its association with the Still Life, and, contemporary Still Life has grown beyond its connection to flowers. Still Life has regenerated itself in an extraordinary way as an aspect of installation and performance art as well as through painting. This too is something remarkable.

Space, like Beauty, is now being mentioned a lot, but it is worth knowng that pictorial space is connected to the study of perspective. Without the backing of practical knowledge, the word 'space' may be considered to be simply a reductive and cool word to include in an artists statement.

When I introduced the concept of space into my work, it was as a young artist in the late 1970's, with an entirely new idea for Flower Painting. I began to develop the understanding of pictorial space as something that can describe how a plant grows. This came from my education as a painter schooled in perspective formulas. 

Previously and historically, the white or coloured area around an image of a plant was seen as simply a background, or in some cases as a void in which the plant was floating.

No contemporary artist worth their salt wants throw the baby out with the bath water, and it is worth mentioning here that the flat white background has a very serious role in Scientific Botanical Illustration. 

So what is next for Botanical Art, and can something entirely unprecedented and unexpected now be brought-in to add to what has already been achieved? 


Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Artist Gardener

By writing this preliminary short post, I am aiming to respond to the 22 people who have recently asked to read my essay that accompanies the Lilium regale painting, which is part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Contemporary Botanical Art collection.

Many thanks to the artists, collectors and gardeners who make up the 22 people who have made this request. 

I am very pleased to announce that the RHS Lindley Library has generously allowed the essay to be published on this blog.

Please do watch this space, as its coming soon.

Those who follow my work are aware that as an observational Flower Painter, I occupy the fine art aspect of the Botanical Art genre, and within this aspect I have lived the quiet life of the Artist Gardener. 

The Artist Gardener also occupies a very historic and special place in European history, which finds its early roots in the life of the renaissance painter Albrecht Dὒrer (1471-1528).

Many of you will know that my background and relationship to plant life has come to me from a family history of domestic horticulture. This has been combined with my academic training in classical drawing and painting, colour and art theory, abstraction, and the history of art and aesthetics. 

Unlike many botanical painters, I do not herald from a combination of illustration and botany. Rather, I have a serious, if perhaps eccentric, and definitely curious, mix of education and training.

I have always hoped and intended my work to hold a complimentary position to Scientific Botanical Illustration. I remain true to an evolving and historical tradition of Flower Painting, which is separate from the still life genre. It is simply the art of naturalism, which is based on accurate observation of natural beauty in natural light. This is supported by a philosophical intent that is contemporary in its notion.

Part of my work, over the past 40 years, has been to reclaim the Flower Painting from the Still Life genre and return it to its botanical and naturalistic focus. This particular approach holds a new content that is an aspect of our contemporary connection to plant life and is intentionally absent of the rhetoric and symbolism of the earlier Flower Piece.

My involvement with the cultivation of garden plants, which I have grown through out my career - specifically as subject matter for paintings and drawings - culminated in my studies on Phenology. 

This took place during the flowering season of cultivated peonies, over an eight year time line from 2006 -14.  

One large piece of the resulting artwork is now a part of the Shirley Sherwood Collection of Botanical Art.

This particular Phenological Project, involved data collection and visual studies of a group of cultivars of Paeonia lactiflora that originated in 18th century France, and which I grew in my garden in England.

Further Reading on the botanic website 

For details on the Phenology Project

For the website CV 

For the website Biographical Chronos

Paeonia lactiflora 'Francois Ortegat'
Garden Study
acrylic on canvas
Coral G Guest

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Go Well This Summer

Some Thoughts on Travelling with a Sketchbook

Our Planet is the oyster of the Naturalistic Painter, and now is the time that many of us are beckoned by beauty to venture forth into the wilderness to paint and draw in situ.

Wherever you decide to go, this post is a gentle reminder to be safe and to observe the rules of travelling to paint en plein air.

Remember that the coastal areas can be as treacherous as inland mountains. Deserts and moors may have sudden weather changes. Countryside paths are often open to the elements and may induce exposure over long distances in cold wet weather. Only travel alone if you are unquestionably sure you know enough about the area and have enough experience with drawing and painting in the field. Ensure that your materials are light and transportable. A heavy rucksack becomes all the more heavier when one is tired and cold. Never stay out longer than you know is good for you.

Do inform others of where and when you are venturing out.  I take a scale OS map - having learnt how to read it correctly - plus a water supply, protective gear, and good boots. It’s easy to get lost, especially at night, so I look at the times of sunrise and sunset and the time of the tides. It may be necessary to travel with a local guide.

Researching an area before visiting reminds us to respect the plant life and the wild life, as well as caring for ourselves by being aware that safety always comes first.

Above is a watercolour study painted in Iceland on a summer's night at 11pm. 

This is from my sketch book selected by the elegant Rabley Drawing Centre for their wonderful SKETCH open drawing prize exhibition in 2017.

This image can be seen on page 47 of the 2017 exhibition catalogue of the Sketch Open Drawing Prize. 

The above study was painted at one of the recognised black beaches in the south of Iceland, on the Atlantic coast.

Having ventured onto the beach with a guide, I observed one of the rogue waves of the type that have taken many an unexpected tourist who did not live to regret the experience.  The reality of this great wave is alarming and unlike anything I have previously witnessed. This kind of unexpected happening reminds us never to forget that nature, although sublime and magical, can be terrible and disturbing and has to be respected.

So, when travelling beyond, to paint and draw, please be safe and do bear in mind that knowledge is wiser than curiosity.

The website for Ramblers in the UK has a great deal to offer in terms of preparation and has a dedicated Advice page with FAQs and don’t forget the local Information Centre for the areas that you are travelling within, and towards.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Spirit of the Artist, the Making of the Painting, and the Balance of Common Sense

Below is a post from this Blog archive. 
It was written on 30th October 2014 at 4.42 am. 
Six Botanical Artists have recently written asking me to publish it again. 

Thank you for asking, and so here we go....

Paeonia lactiflora 'Armandine Mechin'

1:1 carbon and wash on chalk gesso
Coral G Guest

When a Botanical Artist transits into a life as a full time professional painter they stand on the edge of what they hope will be a long and productive career. At this point each one of us has the choice to lay down a foundation of positive and beneficial working patterns that will serve us well throughout our time of painting flowers, enabling us to manage our energy as we work each day.

In the studio I begin the day with breathing exercises that are yogic in nature - namely pranayama and kryia. I began practicing kriya in 1991, and have used these exercises to bring physical, emotional, and mental balance at the start of the working day. These kinds of simple practical exercises are used in most yoga schools. I have a common sense approach to the work, aiming to make it all more simple rather than more complex.

My easel stands upright in my studio, the materials are laid out. I bless and dedicate my tools and materials because they are loved and I feel it is a privilege to have them. I begin work standing at the easel, walking forward toward the work and then away to see it from a distance. The plant subject sits to my left on its own table. I work from observation, in natural light, sometimes stopping to stretch. The studio is well ventilated.

In 1978, at the age of 22, and in receipt of a travel scholarship from the Painting department of Chelsea College of Art and Design, I travelled to Japan to study Calligraphy in a Temple, in Yamanashi Prefecture.  Here, I began to learn the ritual of managing my energy by managing my breathing process.

Energised and consistent breathing allows the artist to fuse power into their work. It also enables and facilitates the balanced physical, emotional, and mental wellness that a painter needs to work many hours each day, for a whole life time. The ability to connect with the breath creates a rhythm where energy is generated.  The in-breath can be used to reset and accumulate intent. The out-breath, when synchronised with a brush stroke, energises the art work and allows focus to be maintained and concentration to be applied to the process of painting. 

Stress is a very real factor for the Botanical Artist. In my classes at Kew and the Master Classes for Dr Sherwood, I saw that many students held their breath when working.  Stress is part of the equation for a Botanical Artist because they deal with live plant matter that is necessarily transient. This pressure is greatly alleviated when an artist works from photographs. However, the pressure of spending many hours each day painting in great detail with small brushes, and working to a deadline for an exhibition, is always there. Over the years this stress and pressure can build, and so finding ways to keep working and not accumulate the negative effects of pressure is something I have always considered to be essential for long term artistic productivity. 

Choices, choices, is it better to begin the day at the easel with no breakfast or a bacon sandwich, or would a bowl of porridge work better? One thing is certain, what you eat will affect your work. Excessive sweet foods and very salty foods are more likely to cause a lapse in focus that comes about through body chemistry. Intense concentration and effort during painting time forces the body to burn up minerals. Fasting is always best done on rest days rather than work days, as fasting when working leads to depletion of those minerals that the body does not easily store.  The right foods, when taken little and often, will always outperform the extremes of fasting or over indulgence and this builds the good foundation for the following day’s work. It’s simple common sense.

Working each day in the studio with a happy body brings a gentle and vibrant state of mind that will always bear fruit in the work. It may sound a little boring, but it works. A quiet mind engenders quiet regular breathing and this in turn generates a stress free mind and body system. Long hours of focused painting work are enabled by regular and deep breathing. 

When the painter feels balanced the long hours don’t actually seem that way, they seem more as a flow. Long hours of work can have a peaceful effect, like standing on the shore of an ocean watching the waves come and go.

I have never suffered any strain on my neck or arms because painting and drawing is a natural process for me. Working with natural light in the studio is beautiful and advantageous in relation to artificial light, particularly in the winter. I stretch throughout the day when I remember to, and I take a walk each day - as Turner and Hokusai did - because if we do have choices we can make the best choices. 

We can never guarantee that we will not make errors through tiredness. I have done so, and lived to be sorry for working when over-tired. But the learning curve this offers is useful. How ever successful one becomes, there is never any unfair advantage and neither should we expect one.

The above has served me well over the years to enable a clarity with the work, even at times when I was teaching at night after painting in the studio during the day. I found the benefits of the above practice to be profound long term, psychologically as well as physically.

From the early days, I have always asked my students to find and use their innate common sense and run with it as a priority.

Psychologically, I have never felt the need to publicise my emotional pain when things did not go my way. Common sense tends to drown the need to seek attention, just as emotional discontentment evaporates when one is focused and concentrated. 

No need to wait for the muse, for the muse makes rare appearances and can be celebrated for its ephemeral nature. Far better to be professional, for the professional puts the work first and simply keeps renewing their focus through each moment in each day.