Monday, 4 April 2011

Artist of the Month - Kim Squire Johnston

Introducing our Artist of the Month of April: 

Q and A with Kim Squire Johnston:

1.      Please tell us about the project you are currently busy with.

At the moment an Erythrina, Sabie Star and a series of Hibiscus flowers in colour pencil just for fun. I am also busy with planning for future exhibits and themes.  

2.     What is your art background? Where did you receive training?

I attended the University of Pretoria where I studied Information Design which was a 4 year degree course for Graphic Designers. I also attended Pro Arte and there I did art specifically design, graphics and painting.

     What is your aim for the 2011, and beyond?

This year my focus is on establishing my Coloured Pencil Art School and painting for the Johannesburg exhibition coming up in October. I am also busy planning my work for the Kirstenbosch exhibition for next year. 

     Do you have a favourite subject that you particularly love to paint?

Not as yet. I am very new to botanical painting so I am still exploring the vast amount of different subjects. But admittedly I am drawn to plants that we don't often see, the rare and unusual plants. 

     Is there a particular plant that you would love to paint but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

There are so many! I would love to paint the Aloe polyphylla in its natural habitat.

     What is your most dreaded job, or aspect of being a botanical artist?

I don't think there is any job that I can dread because I am just so happy to be able to paint and hone my craft. There are however some tough challenges (like plants with lots of details) and usually I end up having a good old giggle when I have lost my place.

     What is your favourite brand of paints, brushes and paper?

Winsor and Newton paint (I have one tube of Talens Rembrandt and it's great), Raphael Kolinsky sable brushes (series 8408) and the Kolinsky Sable brushes that I bought from Green and Stone are very nice brushes! And of course Arches HP 300gsm.

     Do you have a particular artist/or artist’s whose work you particularly admire and receive inspiration from.

I love Susannah Blaxill's work, probably because of the detail and the graphic nature of her work, to me, she doesn't paint plants she describes them.
The other artist that I admire is Jenny Philips, she has a wonderful way with texture, I would love to learn from her. Some ladies a little closer to home would be Ann Harris, Gillian Condy and Jennifer Johnston Davidson.

     What is your favourite botanical art book at the moment?

This is a hard question, Ann Swan's "Botanical Painting with Coloured Pencils" is a wonderful book but I have read that so now I'm on the prowl again. 

 Do you have a favourite botanical ‘art tip’ that you can part with?

Experimentation is key so do roughs and draw, draw, draw. I also believe that you can never know everything so I am always looking for books to read and learn from. And if that doesn't help then I'm looking for people that I can learn from. I can never have enough knowledge. 

Kim in the field

Watercolour. Click to enlarge

Watercolour. Click to enlarge

Watercolour. Click to enlarge

Coloured pencil. Click to enlarge

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sandie Burrows on preparing for a major exhibition

Sandie Burrows' talk on how she is preparing artwork for the 2013 RHS botanical art show was very well attended.
Sandie lead us through her working process right from the start, from getting all the exhibition information, to making sketches in the field, to how she has achieved the final layouts of her 8 paintings.
The amount of work she has done in preparation for her final work is astounding, and her level of dedication is truly awe-inspiring.

A few points from her talk:

  • Draw, draw and draw! Drawing is the foundation of everything, you can never get too much practice.
  • Draw in the field from live specimens if at all possible. Go into your garden if you don't have a natural habitat nearby, or visit your local botanical gardens.
  • Make use of your local botanical garden. That is what they are there for. Visit the herbarium and ask for help!
  • Draw as much detail as possible, focus on botanical accuracy and recording as much information as possible.
  • Take plenty of reference photos.
  • Don't worry about the format of your prep drawings/sketches. Draw on any scrap of paper if necessary.
  • Keep all your drawings/sketches/photos/scraps of info together in a file. (Keep a file for each species). In this way your drawings and sketches are easily accessible for future reference, and you'll never know when you'll re-use them (rearranged in another format) again.
  • Take plenty of reference photos.
  • Use herbarium specimen to get proper scale of plant when out of the field.
  • Use prep drawings and sketches to "patch together" a preparation drawing for final painting.
  • Don't be scared to chop off and rearrange bits (stick together bits of paper!) to achieve a more pleasing composition when preparing for your final drawing. Although you must be careful to remain botanically accurate (don't put bits where they wouldn't normally grow, for instance!).
  • Use a tracing paper overlay marked with the "golden ratio" to make sure that your focal points are in the right spot.
  • Artworks for exhibitions must have "wall appeal"!
  • When paintings are to be hung as a group consider how they they will look together. Plan the layout of each painting so that it works well as a set. (Hanging of paintings iis then very important - paintings have to be hung in a certain arrangement.)
  • In a group hanging attention must be paid that focal point is in a different place in every painting. Careful attention must be paid to the visual weight of each artwork, and  how this works in the group as a whole. You want the viewer's eye to move about the group in a certain way.
We wish Sandie well in finishing her work, and look forward to seeing the final artworks!

One of Sandie's detailed botanical drawings from her Impatiens collection. Click to enlarge.

Gill thanking Sandie for her talk.

RHS Exhibition of Botanical Art - find links to guidelines and regulations at the bottom of the page

Photos and review by Samantha Haacke

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Katie Lee Drawing Workshop led by Gill Condy

 The Katie Lee Drawing Workshop led by Gill Condy, 
Pretoria 15th of February 2011 
Gill in action.
"Remember that no finished work is perfect. It is as good as it can be at the moment it was drawn, with the limitations of your technical skills". - Katie Lee

This was a solid “back to basics” workshop emphasizing the importance of observation and doing thorough preparatory sketches, which is something most of us overlook in the hurry to produce a finished botanical painting.
Gill led us through the book from start to finish, highlighting all the most pertinent points. And although we didn’t do much drawing other than shading a few tonal exercises, the workshop was very worthwhile for all the information and quite a few “ah ha” moments it provided.

Just a few of the points discussed:
  •   Observation takes time – try not to hurry this stage! Try to use as many senses as possible to get to know your subject.  
  • Use notes to trigger a dialogue between verbal and visual.
  • Note the most important characteristics of the plant – these should be evident in the final work, otherwise you have failed in rendering the plant.
  •  How to properly light your subject, and how light is “read”. The importance of light in relation to focal point.
  •   All subjects, no matter how complex, can be broken down into basic forms (sphere, cylinder, cone etc).
  •   All about graduated shading and building layers of tone.
  • The different kinds of preparatory sketches – line (descriptive), tonal (creating form), textural, and pigment/color study – and why each one is important. The finished painting should be a sum of all of these.
  •   How to draw bending/arching leaves and ribbon shapes. (We got to make a bendy acetate leaf which is a useful aid).
  •  Drawing mid ribs, side veins and growth lines. Shading lines should follow direction of growth.

The book! Very practical ring binding lets you lay it open flat while open on an exercise.
Printed on high quality paper which will stand up to good use.

    The book places a lot of emphasis on tonal studies, and systematically working through tonal shading exercises, with the aim of making technique in suggesting form second nature. I think any drawing exercise is worthwhile, and this book’s exercises, although they seem a bit laboriously obsessive at times, will make one a better observer, and definitely a stronger drawer.

    “Drawing is the foundation of creativity, and technique is the foundation of drawing.”  - Katie Lee

    Review and photos by Samantha Haacke